129 Fillmore Street W. was known as the Grand Opera House in the early 1900’s, the upstairs with its wide stairs, was the center of cultural activities, traveling movies, political meetings, dances and indoor athletic events of which Indoor Base Ball was played by the Preston Tigers. Indoor Base Ball was born by chance on Thanksgiving Day, 1887 when several members of the Farragut Club of Chicago were boxing in the gymnasium of the clubhouse. One of the members, in pulling off a boxing glove, threw it in a spirit of fun toward a spectator at the opposite end of the room. Another member struck at the flying glove with a broom he held in his hand, and the sport of indoor baseball was born! George Hancock conceived the idea of a new sport from the collision of the broom and boxing glove and won for him the title of “Father of Indoor Base Ball”. That first encounter concluded with a score of 41-40. Later, proper equipment was introduced and the game spread beyond the confines of the upper Midwest. By 1891 there were Rules of the Game—bases were 27 feet apart, and with larger than usual ball, crude bat, and absence of gloves, indoor baseball was not unlike what we now call 16 inch or “Chicago softball”.
From 1895 – 1897 Preston, Mn. enjoyed the distinction of having the best indoor baseball team in Southern Minnesota. They had a record of 15 games played, 12 won, and 3 lost. Area teams that played against Preston were Winona, Stewartville, Mabel, Caledonia, and Wykoff.
In the Spring of 1897, word was put out that it was time to get moving and prepare for the upcoming winter season. The old team had broken up, but most of the players were in town, and by getting together and selecting the best available material, a team could be organized that would keep the neighboring towns guessing! A meeting was arranged for November, 1897, to take measures to organize a winning team—for fun and glory—with hearty support from area citizens.
By 1904, Preston was playing Indoor Base Ball against teams such as the YMCA team of St. Paul with about 700 people witnessing the game. Preston Tigers Indoor Base Ball team became known as “the team that made our city famous” and included members Clinton Kerr, B. Johnson, Fred Love, David Ploff, Walter Foote, Herb Vickerman, Ed Schoenbaum, Tom Garratt, E. Joseph, and A. Kerr. Considered the 2nd best Indoor Base Ball team in the United States…..they played the Chicago Spaldings in 1905 at Preston. The Spaldings won the series 2 games to 1. Up to 1,000 spectators crowded into the Grand Opera House for each of the games! The Spaldings were the only team that could beat us!
Special trains took the Tigers and their enthusiastic fans to games on the road. In 1904, when the Tigers were still unbeaten, The Preston Times newspaper proclaimed: “The Tigers stand ready to play any team between oceans and, until they are defeated, we consider them invincible!” Indoor Base Ball games were at their peak and the special trains took the ball players and spectators to every game. The trains would just wait at the game town for the end of the game, and then it would return with its passengers. The Tigers, Preston’s unbeaten team, placed a banner alongside of the passenger coach with their name and the slogan, “we eat ‘em alive!”
A few years later, Outdoor Baseball replaced Indoor Base Ball as the towns favorite sport. In 1910, a world championship series was held at the Preston Fairgrounds between two “Negro teams”. The Leland Giants of Chicago and the Colored Gophers of St. Paul were widely acknowledged to be the greatest “colored teams in the world.” The Giants won 3 games over the Gophers, claiming the title, as well as the $800 purse.
Preston’s Sesquicentennial, commemorating 150 years, was in 2005. The city celebrated the Preston Tigers by putting together a group of players dressed in vintage baseball uniforms to emulate the famous local team of the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. A baseball game between the Rochester Roosters and Preston Tigers was arranged as part of the towns celebration.
In closing, the Preston Tigers…..undoubtedly, a momentous part of “Preston History”….should be a main ingredient of “Preston Pride” for today!
Article by Darwin & Genny Smith